It's been a little while since last time, but Zarnyx and I are back with a fresh crop of reviews. Once again, I have never played a Professor Layton game before, like, this year, and my compatriot has never played a Phoenix Wright game. In anticipation of the pants-wetting Ace Attorney and Layton crossover that BETTER COME OUT SOON DAMMIT, we're reviewing the second game in each of the series. She's got Justice For All, so without that leaves me with The Diabolical Box.
One of my biggest complaints about Curious Village was that, although individually, I liked the story and (most of) the puzzles, they didn't tie together well. Or at all. It was like watching a Studio Ghibli movie and then pressing pause every 5 minutes to fill in a sudoku puzzle, and it killed the momentum of the game for me.
I'm happy to say that Diabolical Box fixed a whole lot of those problems. Many of the puzzles are tied into the story, either directly or indirectly, and the effect this has on the game is immense. The story informs the puzzles and vice versa, usually. You end up paying more attention and getting more involved with the story.
And speaking of the story, this one's a doozy. It's much, MUCH darker than you'd expect, especially given the fact that it's just the second game in the series. I mean, hell, after the success of the first game, it takes some stones to, in the opening cutscene, up and kill a dude. I didn't expect that.
The story takes some turns, and although the twists at the end aren't as mind-bending as they were in Curious Village, the way they're dealt with is soft, careful, and wonderful. It's a truly beautiful story, and it was a joy to experience— especially as I was never forcibly jerked out of it.
However, not every step this second game took was a step forward. There are far too many puzzles that don't really involve intelligence, just trial and error. I hated that. But hey, if you like slide puzzles, peg solitaire, and moving a knight around a chessboard, more power to you.
Also, some of the minigames are completely inane. The camera puzzle was a nice touch, and the "find-the-difference" twist that it adds into the game fits well, but the hamster minigame is just stupid. It's way too easy, especially late in the game, and his voice is probably the most annoying thing ever. Except for Luke's voice. His voice is still pretty annoying. I hope they fix it later on, because his accent is so fake it hurts.
On the face of it, the tea subgame seems innocent enough, but there's no skill or smarts involved. You just mix three ingredients and hope they turn into a delicious tea. It's all trial, error, and luck, which seems to go against everything Layton games are supposed to be.
That said, whenever the puzzles got stupid, the story more than made up for it. And even when the story lulled, walking around and talking to these colorful characters was delightful in its own right. Chelmey and his deputy are charming, as is the maitre d' in the train's dining car. Above all, there's a great amount of care that went into this game, its characters, and the way it proceeds. It's palpable, and it makes a difference when you play it.
All in all, I'm still pretty sure My Phoenix is better than Your Layton, but I understand the appeal. Layton just doesn't have the narrative appeal for me that Phoenix Wright does yet. For lack of a better way of saying it, the Ace Attorney games seem better written.